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ICT essentials for rebuilding fragile states

Mark Jamison's picture
Photo credit: STARS/Flickr
Enabling a robust market for information and communications technologies (ICTs) is fundamental to rebuilding fragile and conflict affected states (FCSs) and addressing the human suffering. As I have explained elsewhere, ICTs are critical because they can be used to alert people to renewed violence, build community, restart the economy, and facilitate relief efforts. The critical strategies that enable ICTs are protection of property rights and minimal barriers to competition.
South Sudan provides examples of the importance of ICT. Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative’s Youth Peacemaker Network tells the stories of John from Twic East Country whose life was spared by a phone call warning of an impending attack, and of Gai Awan, Artha Akoo Kaka, and Moga Martin from Numule whose ICT trainings opened employment and education opportunities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) explains how ICT can help protect refugees: Biometrics enabled Housna Ali Kuku, a single mother of four, to obtain precisely scheduled treatments for her respiratory tract infection and for her children. GPS is used to identify sources of diseases and to track their spread.
A World Bank study by Tim Kelly and David Souter identified five themes in post-conflict recovery and how ICT plays critical roles.

All text messages are not created equal

Pierre Guislain's picture
Photo credit: Adam Fagen/Flickr
Eight months after the launch of the World Development Report 2016 on Digital Dividends, I am happy to report that our efforts to operationalize the findings are well under way. For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere, affordable access to broadband internet is key. This requires both robust broadband infrastructure, and the strengthening of analog complements to digital solutions, including a pro-competitive and effective regulatory framework, a sound business environment, good governance and digital skills.

One of our main areas of focus is the enabling environment – helping governments foster digital development by putting in place the right policies and regulations.

Now, what are some of the main issues?

First, across the world, but especially in developing countries, competitiveness continues to be dragged down by ‘red tape’, including numerous procedures, authorizations and delays to start a business or launch a service, costly and unreliable property registration, or stifling labor regulations. I am sure you are all familiar with the Doing Business report and the World Bank’s many programs to support business reforms worldwide.

While the digital industry also faces these regulatory hurdles, it is confronted with additional challenges.

Let me give you an example. With your phone in hand, you are about to send a text message to a friend. Your phone offers you a choice: to send the text message through your mobile operator, or to send it via the internet through an app. Depending on what platform you use, your text message will be taxed differently. All text messages are not created equal: different digital services are treated differently from a regulatory and fiscal point of view, with no real level playing field.

SDGs Made with Code: Giving women and girls the power to change the world

Mariana Dahan's picture
Increasingly more aspects in our lives are powered by technology, yet women aren’t represented in the roles that create this technology. In many places there are barriers to simply using technology, let alone, creating it. Women in India and Egypt are six times more likely than women in Uganda to say that internet use is not considered appropriate for them, and that their friends or family may disapprove. Learning to create with technology opens up opportunities for women to express themselves, have the ideas heard and contribute to shaping our future. Even though there’s so much more we need to do, we’re inspired to see the movement around the world to break down these barriers and start contributing their voices to the field of technology.

We recently met Mariana Costa from Laboratoria – a nonprofit that empowers young women by providing them access to the digital sector. In the next three years Laboratoria will train more than 10,000 young women as coders. This tech social enterprise located in Peru, Mexico and Chile, helps young women - who have not previously had access to quality education – enroll in an immersive five-month training program at Laboratoria’s Code Academy, where students achieve an intermediate level on the most common web development languages and tools. Their technical development is complemented with a personal development program that helps them build the soft skills needed to perform well at work. Successful graduates also receive mentoring and job placement and are usually able to pay-back the cost of the course during their first two years of employment. Most of the time, these young girls are the only breadwinners in their households.

What is Korea’s Strategy to Manage the Implications of Artificial Intelligence?

Hyea Won Lee's picture

AlphaGo, Google’s DeepMind Artificial Intelligence (AI) program for Go game, recently beat the world’s top ranked Korean grandmaster Lee Se-dol in a five-game Go match in Seoul. Lee’s defeat by 4-1 turned into a shock for the Korean public and quickly spurred a major discussion on the state of Artificial Intelligence development and its broader impact on society. In response to the soaring public attention, the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) has laid out the Artificial Intelligence Information Industry Development Strategy, which aims to strengthen the foundation for AI growth.

The Importance of Mapping Tech Hubs in Africa, and beyond

Rachel Firestone's picture

As the World Bank’s ongoing mapping of Tech Hubs in Africa comes out with its newest edition, we wanted to share the rationale behind this exercise and highlight its links to other efforts in this innovative space.

Our mapping activities began tracking tech hub and incubators in the African context since 2014 with periodic updates, focusing specifically on those who support digital entrepreneurship.
Complementing other World Bank work in this realm, such as research on mLabs and mHubs, contributions to the Makers’ movement, support to mobile app competitions, bootcamps and hackathons, and an upcoming Pan-African Acceleration program, the Tech Hubs in Africa map highlights the presence and potential interaction between digital entrepreneurs, while furthering the World Bank’s twin goals of ending poverty and increasing shared prosperity. The exercise also provides data points for ongoing inquiry into the relationship between innovation, entrepreneurship, job creation, and sustainable livelihoods. 

Public-private cooperation to build digital identity systems

Julia Clark's picture
Today, the World Bank, Secure Identity Alliance, and GSMA have launched a joint white paper,  “Digital Identity: Towards Shared Principles for Public and Private Sector Cooperation”. Building on an existing body of research on digital identity for sustainable development, this paper takes a first step in framing key issues, benefits and challenges for public-private cooperation to build digital identity systems. It highlights the primary dividends and risks of digital identity ecosystems, describes the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders, and discusses emerging models of identity systems and partnerships. In addition, it suggests some common themes and principles that stakeholders should consider in order to ensure that digital identity systems are inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable. We hope that it serves as a basis for future analytical work in this important area.
Individuals, governments and private sector companies share a common interest in having trustworthy systems that enable end-user identity verification. Public sector agencies need inclusive and secure identity systems to administer government programs and delivery of services, including elections, social transfers, tax collection and border security. Similarly, private firms often rely on government-issued identification (e.g., birth certificates and national IDs) to verify the identity of their users and build their own identity systems to support client services. For the end-user, it is all about security of personal data and timely and efficient access to services and benefits. 

Digital Development into Practice: Co-Designing a Citizen Feedback Tool that Makes Sense

Samhir Vasdev's picture
In April the World Bank endorsed the Principles for Digital Development, signaling its intent to support the use of technologies in projects through human-centered, contextually appropriate, collaborative, safe, and sustainable design.
But what does this look like in practice? On the surface, projects that adopt the Digital Principles may not look so different from more conventional ICT4D efforts. Consider, for instance, a new participatory monitoring program in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. MOPA invites citizens to report problems in the waste management services through a digital platform, relaying these problems via an open-source map for the city council to enlist microenterprises to collect the waste. 
Within a six-month pilot across four districts, over 900 problems were identified by trained monitors
This is far from the first community engagement and participatory monitoring program to use technologies aimed at reducing barriers for citizens to more directly inform anything, from budget allocation to policy options to service delivery. And like many other participatory engagement programs, MOPA faced a slew of familiar challenges that have caused other similar projects to stutter, including:

Blockchain technology: Redefining trust for a global, digital economy

Mariana Dahan's picture

a longer version of this blog post is available on the
MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative platform

With Google Trends data showing that searches for the word “blockchain” have exponentially increased, we may be entering the peak of the hype cycle for blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

But here’s the thing: the blockchain is a major breakthrough. That’s because its decentralized approach to verifying changes in important information addresses the centuries-old problem of trust, a social resource that is all too often in short supply, especially amid the current era’s rampant concerns over the security of valuable data. It turns out that fixing that can be a boon for financial inclusion and other basic services delivery, helping to achieve the global objectives laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sorting out hype from reality may depend on how well we identify where institutions that have until now played a role in mediating trust between people are falling short, especially in the key area of money. Deploying the blockchain in those settings to generate secure, decentralized trust could achieve great strides in inclusion and innovation.

What do we mean by decentralized trust? The concept is unfamiliar in part because its converse -- centralized trust – is something that we often take for granted, at least while it’s working. But if we look at the history of transactions since the early barter systems to modern-day digital money exchanges, we can see how different trust protocols for keeping track of our exchanges of value have evolved and how, in each case, centralizing trust within particular institutions has periodically caused problems.

As strategies for dealing with this challenge evolved and as the complexity and frequency of transactions grew, different trust bearers emerged. We went from relying on the memory and discretion of tribal leaders, to central governments issuing currencies in the form of precious metals, to commercial banks acting as trusted intermediaries and issuing their own bank notes, to central banks managing a hybrid system in which sovereign fiat banknotes circulate alongside a debt/credit form of money managed by regulated banks and internal ledgers.

Replacing a Three Day Walk with the Push of a Button

Charles Hurpy's picture
Madagascar is big—it’s the fourth largest island in the world, more than twice as big as the United Kingdom. Madagascar’s size, its tropical climate, dense forests and steep hills, combined with a lack of money for infrastructure deployment and maintenance, means there are isolated pockets of people all over the country without easy access to cities, to information, to the world.
Until recently, mobile and communications services were confined to a few, mostly urban, areas. That left people living in rural areas cut off. When we were in Madagascar, working on this project, we saw many rural communities in dire need of essential infrastructure and services. People in some villages live far from any road, or rely on dirt tracks that turn to impassable mud ways in the rainy season, without access to electricity, hospitals, or banks.
So, in this environment, access to mobile communications cannot be considered a luxury anymore—it’s a vital service that overcomes physical barriers and infrastructure gaps. With mobile service, people can contact family members in case of an emergency, call for medical help, and transfer money via their cell phones.  Farmers—a large majority of the country population works in agriculture, and especially the poorest—can use the internet to check market prices for their produce, or get information on fertilizers.  Schools with connectivity can reach the world, giving students access to information ranging from Victor Hugo’s novels to Fermat’s last theorem. Phones can be vital tools for health and well-being.

Can recycled 3D printing filament lead to a successful social venture?

Cecilia Paradi-Guilford's picture
 3D printing filament from PET plastic, ReFabDar 
The World Bank recently launched the ReFabDar initiative together with COSTECH and the Ethical Filament Foundation to test the opportunity of turning Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic waste into value through collaboration across the recycling industry, local innovators and entrepreneurs, makers and tinkerers, and by leveraging 3D printers and new, low-cost PET extruder technology. PET is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family used in fibers for clothing, containers, and other products.

The initiative, funded by the IC4D Trust Fund at the World Bank and launched last September, aimed to assess the feasibility and the market opportunity to turn PET plastic waste into 3D printer filament that can be sold locally or globally, and to then print unique and local marketable products, which could be then traded and sold by waste collectors back to their communities. It also aims to build local capacity on making and digital fabrication in countries like Tanzania. More background on the initiative can be found here.